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Nature. 1992 Feb 27;355(6363):841-5.

C. elegans unc-4 gene encodes a homeodomain protein that determines the pattern of synaptic input to specific motor neurons.

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Department of Cell Biology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710.


The creation of neural circuits depends on the formation of synapses between specific sets of neurons. Little is known, however, of the molecular mechanisms governing synaptic choice. A mutation in the unc-4 gene alters the pattern of synaptic input to one class of motor neurons in the Caenorhabditis elegans ventral nerve cord. In unc-4(e120), the presynaptic partners of VA motor neurons are replaced with interneurons appropriate to motor neurons of the VB class. This change in neural specificity is not accompanied by any detectable effects on neuronal morphology or process extension. We show that the absence of a functional unc-4 gene product accounts for the mutant phenotype. The unc-4 gene encodes a homeodomain protein and thus is likely to function as a transcription factor. The limited effect of the unc-4 null mutation on cell fate may mean that unc-4 regulates the expression of a small number of target genes and that the products of these genes are directly involved in the choice of synaptic partners.

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